Whether you love, hate or are indifferent about Ohio State Buckeyes football, the new ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Youngstown Boys likely has something to offer. It tells a story of two important figures who embodied the good, bad and ugly of college football culture.
The film examines the story of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel and running back Maurice Clarett. Both men have roots in Youngstown—hence the title—and together they played a major role in the Buckeyes' first championship in 34 years in 2002.
Tressel came to Ohio State after a successful but tainted tenure at Youngstown State in 2000. He quickly guided the Buckeyes to the top of the college football landscape. In just his second year as head coach, the Buckeyes beat the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes to win the national championship.
For the next nine years, Tressel guided the Buckeyes to success. He amassed the third-most wins of any coach in Buckeyes history, but his failure to notify the school of NCAA violations involving Ohio State football players led to his suspension and subsequent departure from the school.
In 2002 when the Buckeyes were having their magical 14-0 season, Clarett was a freshman running back who was taking the nation by storm. He ran for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns that season, but NCAA violations squashed his sophomore season.
He unsuccessfully tried to challenge the NFL's early-entrant laws after receiving his punishment for the violations. When that didn't go well, his life spiraled out of control in a series of unfortunate and ill-advised events and decisions.
Ultimately, he wound up in prison for three-and-a-half years after a series of charges. The details of these two significant figures in Ohio State history are fairly well-known. Everything I've mentioned is simply a Google search away for anyone interested.
However, the documentary provides the introspective thoughts and words of Tressel and Clarett today. After they have had time to come to grips with their successes and hardships, it is interesting to see if they have found peace.
This fascinating story conjures up discussions about paying collegiate players, offering resources to athletes who have to explore Plan B when their careers don't flourish and a bevy of other hot-button issues in collegiate sports and life.
The ESPN 30 for 30 series has earned a reputation for creating top-notch sports documentaries, and this one looks capable of carrying on the tradition.